Fixing People

My bed was annoying me last night, so this morning I stripped everything off it and remade it again, with the sheets tucked in tight and the quilt coming just to my chin. When I went to open the windows, the dusty screens annoyed me, so I took them off the windows and brushed them clean. The car was annoying me with a funny sound, so this afternoon I took it up to the service station and got it tuned up.

Even though I might gripe about all of the annoying little problems in life, I do like the feeling of being able to fix them. With just a little effort, I can eliminate a problem. One day it’s here; the next day it’s gone. Lovely. 

I wish people were as easy to fix. I could strip off my friend’s talky-ness and adjust it so I can get a word in edgewise. I could take my daughter out and brush off her pickiness. I could take my husband up to the personality station and get his punctuality tuned up. 

Unlike objects, however, people get insulted at the very idea that you would try to fix them. They storm around and tell you you’re crazy for finding fault with them, and remind you of every good thing they’ve ever done for you. They give you the silent treatment or tell you to, “Go fix yourself.” (These are all things I do if anyone tries to fix me.)

People do not allow you to fix them; only they are allowed to fix themselves. That means that you have to somehow find a way to make them want to go to the trouble.

Can type be of any help? Yes it can, but not in the way you would think. You would think that type would be helpful in trying to determine what’s important to the other person and then presenting your case in those terms. For example, if you’re an intuitive, you might try to make a factual case to a sensing friend for why he shouldn’t tell you, “That won’t work” every time you talk about ideas for change.

The trouble with that approach is, there is nothing more annoying than hearing someone deliberately try to “talk your talk.” They never get it right, and it comes across as manipulative and insulting.

Type cannot help us in trying to be someone else, because that’s a fruitless task. Type can, however, help us in being ourselves. We need to be ourselves when we ask people to change, because the only reason they will go through the trouble is that they can see that their behavior is hurting us and they care about us, or they care about the work we do for them. When we ask people to change, we want them to be thinking about our needs, not their failures.  

Type can be enormously helpful in sorting through messy feelings and getting clear about why we are hurting. It can also give us the confidence to speak up, because in the great plan of psychological types, there are good reasons why we are the way we are.   

If you sit down and go through each letter of your type and list its needs, you can probably spot the needs that are not getting met in this particular relationship. For example, our frustrated N will see that intuitives really need to think about the future and how it can be improved, and the world needs to have people thinking about the future. 

When you think you can communicate your needs clearly, you don’t even need to use type jargon. You can just say something like, “Imagining a better world is the most important thing in life for me, and I need to share my thoughts with you, because you’re also important to me. Instead of talking about the flaws in my ideas right away, could we spend some time talking about how our lives would be better if they were real? It would make a big difference to me.”

Type has never been a tool to manipulate people by acting as if we are someone else. Type has always been a tool to understand ourselves better, and once in awhile, to communicate that understanding to others. Expressing our needs clearly and honestly doesn’t work all the time in “fixing” relationships, but in my experience it’s the only thing that ever works.  


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  1. Pam Hollister

    #1 by Pam Hollister - June 21, 2014 at 1:14 PM

    Fantastic advice Susan! Thank you so much for writing this article. When we take the extra time to think of how to communicate our needs clearly in a manner that includes other people, and gives an understanding of our type preferences they can relate to in their everyday world, we are truly understanding ourselves better and communicating that understanding to others.

    Actually, the responsibility is for us to truly understand our type at the deepest levels and be able to express it in a loving manner, so that others understand us!
  2. Jacqueline Freeman

    #2 by Jacqueline Freeman - June 23, 2014 at 6:03 PM

    Love this! Type helps us in relationships by helping us understand ourselves. The self-compassion that comes from helping us to view our strengths and weaknesses as a whole helps us in all other relationships.

    When working with couples/teams that are having issues around what you cited in your last example with one needing to work with possibilities and the other looking for holes in an idea, I help them see when the other's perspective is the most useful. If someone is really good with finding the holes in an idea, then bring the idea to them when you're almost ready to roll it out. They are brilliant allies in helping you find that unexpected (to an "N") thing that could be a major trip-up. When birthing an idea and just beginning to flesh it out, find someone that is encouraging when brainstorming possibilities-- someone that is comfortable with things being uncertain, untested, and innovative.

    Recognizing that each type has its strength and finding the right time/place to utilize that makes all of us feel more appreciated and less frustrated.
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